By Helen Hinckley Jones
The Story So Far: Prudy and John Wayne, living with their uncle and aunt in Tuba, Arizona, are trying to earn enough money to help their parents come from England to America. They have a “counting house” made of two hollow Indian rocks and in it they have a gold coin, given to Prudy when her singing restores the faith of Mrs. Treuman; and several silver coins, earned by John when he was freighting with his uncle.
Aunt Aggie refuses to let John and Uncle Simon continue with the freighting after they are very ill on the road. Just when it looks as if there will never be any more money brought to the counting house, Prudy finds a long leather bag filled with good nuggets. There is a card inside the bag which says: Mr. Joseph Drew, Tombstone, Arizona Territory.
John held the tiny white card between his fingers for a long time, seeming to study each flourish of the penmanship; then he looked up at Prudy. “You know what we must do, don’t you?” he asked slowly.
Prudy’s face flushed. “It’s mean of you to want to take it back. I wish I hadn’t even told you about it. I wish I’d just–” Then the words stopped tumbling out and she was silent for a minute. When she spoke again, the angry flush had left her face. “I knew from the first, John, that finders aren’t keepers, but – but I tried and tried to make myself feel that it would be all right.”
John put his arm across her shoulder. “I know, Prudy. Since Uncle Simon and I gave up freighting, there just hasn’t been any way to add to the treasure, and I’ve been sick about it. But it wouldn’t do to –”
“I tried to make myself think at first that Heavenly Father had let that bag of gold fall into the road just when I was going to go to town. I tried to think so because I’ve prayed so hard about the treasure. But when I found that card I knew down inside of me that we’d have to send it back.”
John’s hand worked at his ear. “Prudy,” he said, “let’s take it back ourselves. That would be a real adventure.”
“And not tell Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon?”
“No, that wouldn’t do either. Let’s get them to do it with us.”
“We’ll ask them in the morning. Shall we?”
The next morning Prudy excused herself from the breakfast table while the rest of the family were still eating. She hurried out to the counting house and came back carrying the heavy leather bag. She put it before Uncle Simon. “Look inside,” she invited.
Uncle Simon looked inside. He was too surprised to say a word. He just stared.
“Law’s sake, Simon,” Aunt Aggie exclaimed. “I do believe I could cut your eyes right off with the carving knife, they’re sticking out of your head that far!”
Uncle Simon pushed the bag over toward her and she looked in. Then she put her hand inside and felt of the nuggets. Uncle Marcus and Aunt Ella came over and stared, too.
“Yesterday when I was going in to town after the flour, I found it,” Prudy said quietly.
“Law’s sake, Simon,” Aunt Aggie said again. “Who is there around here that’s got that much gold?”
Uncle Marcus scratched his head. “Never heard of any prospecting right close around here,” he said. “Wonder if one of the brethren has found gold and is keeping it quiet.”
Prudy took the white card from her folded handkerchief. “We want to go down to Tombstone, Uncle Simon,” she said. “This card was in the bag, so we know who lost it.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Uncle Simon sighed. “I didn’t like the thought of all this gold and not knowing who to return it to.” He passed the card to Uncle Marcus.
Uncle Marcus laughed. “We Latter-day Saints are an odd lot, Simon. Prudy, here, is only ten but still she doesn’t want to keep anything that doesn’t belong to her.”
Prudy remembered how much she had wanted to believe “Finders Keepers” so she said, “Finders aren’t really keepers, are they, Uncle Marcus?”
John remembered to be practical. “When can we go to Tombstone?” he asked.
“The sooner the better, I’d say,” Aunt Aggie said. “Simon, you ought to run over to town and tell them at the store that –”
“Don’t believe I’d do that, Aggie,” Uncle Marcus advised. “I’d head for Tombstone just as soon as possible.”
“Well,” Uncle Simon said, his brows drawn down to a frown, “this Mr. Joseph Drew might come back looking for it. I’ll tell them in town that I have business with Mr. Joseph Drew. Then the boy and I will go to Tombstone just as soon as we –”
Aunt Aggie saw the look of disappointment settle on Prudy’s face. “After all,” she said, “Prudy found the bag. Prudy and I will go with you.”
It took two days for Uncle Simon and Aunt Aggie to get ready to go. During those two days Prudy made believe that the gold was hers; that she was sending for her father and mother and building a house for them in Salt Lake City. She filled the imaginary house with imaginary furniture. Sometimes she played that after everything else she bought and paid for there was still a nugget at the bottom of the bag and that she used it to buy a red plaid dress with a full pleated skirt, leg-o’-mutton sleeves and a long tight waist with rows of brass buttons marching down the front.
So that the trip could be made faster, Uncle Simon had borrowed a surrey with two spring seats. Prudy and John sat on the back seat, the provisions for the trip packed around their feet. Aunt Aggie and Uncle Simon rode in front. Behind, Uncle Marcus had tied a bail of hay so that the horses would have plenty to eat even if there weren’t any grazing along the way for them.
It was the first ride either of the children had ever taken in a carriage, and as they rolled along they enjoyed the speed and the smoothness. Prudy almost forgot to think about the gold nuggets hidden securely in one of the lunch boxes. Sometimes, however, she got to wondering if they would find Mr. Joseph Drew in Tombstone, and if they didn’t what Uncle Simon would want to do about the gold.
“Direct me to Mr. Joseph Drew?” Uncle Simon asked the first man they saw on the streets of Tombstone.
“Mr. Joseph Drew?” the man repeated. “Everybody knows Mr. Joseph Drew.” He came out into the road and pointed down the street. “See that house that’s painted? That’s Drew’s place.”
Prudy shaded her eyes. She could see the painted house, a large white frame building with shutters at the windows and a cupola over the front porch. “Why, it’s a grand house,” she said.
“Indeed it is, Missy,” the man said. “And if you don’t find him at home you can go on a ways farther to the Tombstone Hotel. That’s his place, too. Might find him there.”
Uncle Simon clucked to the horses and they drove on. John said what Prudy was thinking. “Seems like he doesn’t need his nuggets too much.”
“I was just going to say the same thing. Well, maybe as long as he’s rich he’ll tell us just to keep the nuggets.”
John laughed. “No chance, Prudy.”
Mr. Joseph Drew wasn’t at home, but they found him in a private room just off the big reception room in the Tombstone Hotel. “Could we have a word with you?” Uncle Simon asked.
Mr. Drew stood up behind the table. He nodded to Uncle Simon and bowed slightly to Aunt Aggie. Prudy noticed how tall he was, and how fine looking. It seemed strange to see a smooth-shaven man. All the men that she knew had mustaches and beards.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, his voice showing how surprised he was to see them.
Uncle Simon said, “The little girl has some business with you.”
Mr. Drew looked more surprised than ever. “Well, well. Sit down, won’t you?”
They all sat down around the table and Prudy began. She told about how Rex’s feet had kicked up the money bag, how at first she had almost wanted to keep it, but later had decided with John that the thing to do was to return it. Then Uncle Simon went out to the carriage and brought in the bag of nuggets.
“Well, well. I thought this was gone for good,” Mr. Drew said, weighing the bag in his hand. “I venture to guess that there isn’t a nugget missing.”
“There isn’t, sir,” Prudy said.
He poured part of the nuggets out onto the table and poked them into a pile with a careful finger, then he weighed what was left in the bag with a practiced hand. “Half and half,” he said. “I want you folks to have these as a reward for returning my gold.”
Ever since they had decided to return the gold, Prudy had been wishing that Mr. Drew would give them a fine reward. Now she surprised herself. “Thank you very much, sir, but we don’t need a reward for being honest.”
Aunt Aggie put her arms around Prudy’s shoulder. “The child’s right,” she said.
Mr. Drew looked from one to the other. His eyes rested on Uncle Simon. “What do you say?” he asked.
Uncle Simon smiled his slow smile. “The child’s right,” he echoed Aunt Aggie.
Mr. Drew swept the nuggets back into the bag. He leaned far over the table. “You are the first really honest people I have ever met. The first really honest white people, I should say. I’ve met many honest Indians. You are just the people I’ve been looking for.”
He put his thumbs in the arm holes of his vest and tipped his chair back until it rested on the back legs. “Maybe you’ve been wondering what I was doing in Tuba. Well, I’ll tell you. I was up looking over possibilities for an Indian trading post up northwest of there. There are beautiful blankets made in that part of the country. Beautiful bead and basket work, too. While I was there, I had the post built. Now I’ve been looking around for someone to take it over for me.”
Uncle Simon leaned forward in his seat. “Yes?”
“Indians are completely honest in their trading, and white men who trade with them should be just as honest. That’s why I said you are just the people I’ve been looking for.”
“An Indian trading post!” John exclaimed.
Mr. Drew explained. “The Indians in this part of the country make the most beautiful rugs and blankets in the world. They do fine leather work, too. About once a year they bring these things into the trading post; but all year round they need things that the white man has to sell.”
Prudy thought of the stories of fur trading that she had heard. “I thought the Indians would be bringing in furs,”she said.
Mr. Drew laughed. “Not these Indians. But the rugs are the next best things. The wool in them is from the backs of their own herds.”
“And we’d see Indians every day!” John exclaimed. “Oh, Uncle Simon, please say yes.”
Uncle Simon borrowed John’s habit. He pulled at the hair that fell over his eye, and said slowly, “I don’t know anything about the Indians. I don’t know their language – ”
“We could learn,” Prudy said.
“I have an Indian interpreter already staying at the post. He will be able to understand you and talk to the Indians for you.” Mr. Drew looked closely at Uncle Simon. “You folks are Latter-day Saints, aren’t you?”
“We are,” Aunt Aggie said.
“Well, then, there’s no worry. There aren’t any people in the West who have got along so well with the Indians as the Mormons.”
Uncle Simon still looked troubled. “I don’t know–”
Mr. Drew let his chair down until it was sitting on four legs again. “It’s really a fine opportunity for all of you,” he promised. “Your boy and girl, here, could help you a great deal, and all of you could make good returns.”
Prudy had wanted Uncle Simon to take Mr. Drew’s offer since he first made it. Now she turned her shining eyes to her uncle and begged, “Do say yes, Uncle Simon. Do say yes.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Uncle Simon still frowned. “I’ll have to ask advice of my brother, Marcus. I don’t know –”